Melvin Sparks Live At Nectar’s
Published April 14, 2017
The legacy of legendary soul jazz guitarist Melvin Sparks will be celebrated on April 28, 2017 with the release of Live At Nectars on One Note Records. The recording, to be issued on digital formats, as well as limited edition vinyl, documents Melvin’s final band on December 30, 2010 just a few months before his passing in March 2011. Organist Beau Sasser and drummer Bill Carbone had been working with Sparks for several years and, despite the difference in age—they were in their early 30s, while Melvin was an elder-statesmen of the genre—the unit was razor sharp. The trio played the Burlington, VT club Nectar’s regularly, but this evening featured two variables. Per the recommendation of the venue, they used The Grippo Horns featuring Dave Grippo on alto saxophone and Brian McCarthy on tenor saxophone. This was the only time Sparks utilized a horn section in the last several years of his life. Additionally, they captured the performance on a multi-track recording. Both would prove to be wise decisions.
Lovingly mixed by guitarist, producer and Melvin Sparks’ fanatic Eddie Roberts and curated for release by drummer Simon Allen, both members of the acclaimed modern funk band, The New Mastersounds, the album demonstrates that the 64-year old guitarist played as well in the final months of his life as at any other time. From the opening number, “Miss Riverside” through rousing set closer “Whip! Whop!,” Sparks peppers his performance with quotes from jazz standards, pop songs and cartoon themes, all woven effortlessly into the bebop-funk dialect he helped create. He offers delectable melodies, patiently and methodically, through his lengthy lead on “Breezin’,” while delivering a slice of red hot boogaloo on “Fire Eater.” Sparks is audibly uplifted by The Grippo Horns helping him perform his 1973 arrangement of “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I Got)” for the first time in decades.
Texas-born Melvin Sparks was a rhythm & blues guitarist at the outset of his career, backing Jackie Wilson, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye as a member of The Upsetters. He gave up his seat on The Upsetters’ bus when a chance introduction to George Benson inspired him to relocate to New York City; a decision that would ultimately pave the way for his ascension into the soul jazz pantheon. Sparks would go onto play and record with Lou Donaldson, Leon Spencer, Bernard Purdie, Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Idris Muhammad, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Charles Earland, Grover Washington, Jr., Reuben Wilson and so many more. He’d also record nearly a dozen stand-out sessions as a leader. Even when soul jazz experienced a downturn in commercial popularity in the ’80s, Melvin stayed relevant with hip-hop artists sampling his work, which now totals more than 150 samples of his “funky chicken scratch.” Sparks legacy is also heard in contemporary soul/funk bands like The New Mastersounds, Soulive and The Greyboy Allstars, all of whom he guested with several times before his far too early departure.
Listen to “WHIP! WHOP!”: